Perspectives on greener product development and manufacturing from Sustainable Minds, our partners, customers and contributors.

Marketing

Recession or not, consumers still buying green

By Linda Chipperfield on April 20, 2009

Has the worst recession since World War II dampened consumer demand for green products? Not according to a study* commissioned by my organization, Green Seal, and our research partner, EnviroMedia Social Marketing, in January of this year.

We discovered that four of five consumers are still buying sustainable products despite the recession. That’s great news for manufacturers who have made the commitment to include sustainability in their cost-benefit analysis when planning new products. It’s proof that as a nation, our growing commitment to living more sustainably runs deeper than economic fears.

When an artist approaches sustainability, all the lights turn green.

By Sandy Skees on April 13, 2009

 It might be presumptuous for me to talk about great design when my area of expertise is public relations and branding. But I can assure you that launching any product into the marketplace successfully has two basic requirements – a deep understanding of the market and its customer needs, and a beautifully intuitive response to those needs. Right now, I am working with a new company that perfectly demonstrates the value of great design for a shifting market. It began with a little known fact about electricity usage: 22 percent of all electrical power generated in the world is used for lighting. A quarter of that power is used for exterior lighting, which costs $3.2 billion per year in the U.S. alone.

Do We Need All this Stuff? It’s Now Quality over Quantity

By Sandy Skees on March 27, 2009

As sustainable design takes hold, there is increased focus on life cycle issues and growing demand that design become a change agent for transforming cultural and business systems. Daniel Pink’s book, The Whole New Mind, does a brilliant job of explaining how design has become one of the six senses that will thrive in the new world.

But it seems to me, and recent research bears this out, that the first question a designer must ask is, do we need this?

I was chatting the other day with a technology analyst seeking to understand how sustainability will impact the Web 2.0 start-up mentality prevalent in Silicon Valley. I suggested that the first question to ask any entrepreneur or inventor should be, “Does this heal or hurt the world?” Because when you can marry a beautifully-designed, innovative device or service that ALSO adds to the quality of life, then the market will respond favorably. Rethinking our approach might mean not making that new thing you were thinking of making!

The proof that this trend is real comes from a disparate set of indicators:

Recession killing your high-end products? Try marketing your junk.

By Lorne Craig on March 20, 2009

I was wandering blissfully through my local supermarket when a magazine caught my eye. Junk Beautiful it proudly proclaimed. And with its clean, well-styled photography, and a decent design, this magazine/DVD bundle actually does fair justice to its title. What’s more, it has lessons for any company that is facing recession pressure.

Now, I am an admitted scrounger. I love perusing thrift stores, yard sales and Craigslist for pre-used treasures that can live again while saving some landfill and manufacturing resources. So this sort of thing is right up my dumpster-dotted alley. But consider the marketing power of this concept for a moment. Here is a company that’s not extracting, manufacturing or even selling a thing. They simply offer education, inspiration and motivation, while encouraging people to save money with style (at 13 bucks an issue).

Summarizing sustainability

By Guest contributors on March 6, 2009

This post was submitted by guest contributor and author Nathan Shedroff. In his book, Design is the Problem (released March 2009), Nathan explores one of the most interesting sustainable design strategies available to product developers.

When people first approach sustainability, it can be a confusing and frustrating experience. There are so many voices, and so many perspectives that can seem to contradict each other. My own experience in earning an MBA in Sustainable Management was like that until the end of the second year.

There are many pundits who claim to have the answer and many frameworks that are positioned and promoted as the best. But they seem to have only partial solutions and sometimes they even contradict one another. In my experience navigating this world, I’ve come to the following conclusion: they're all valuable because they provide an important piece – albeit partial – of a much larger picture.

Leveraging universal themes to build loyalists

By Sandy Skees on February 27, 2009

“I belong.”
“What I do matters.”
“In spite of it all, I am hopeful.”

As our massive institutions stumble and crumble before our very eyes, we are seeing the emergence of new themes that permeate discussions online, in line at Starbucks, on the airwaves and inside our heads. These themes can be guides for product designers and communicators when solidifying plans for the next 12-18 months.

According to Trendwatching.com, there is an increasing requirement that generosity become a dominant driver in both business and social interactions and institutions. Every media outlet reports on massive citizen uproar and consumer rejection of the greed that has pervaded previously trusted companies. Everyone is looking for institutions that are truthful, that give back, that will be part of the solution. Mix that with the fast-growing online community of individuals who collaborate, donate, spread the word and raise the alarm and you have a powerful new market force. They know their power and they are wielding it, at the voting booth, in online causes, through viral video and even in winning Super Bowl ads.

Sustainability Performance Software – an emerging sector

By Terry Swack on February 9, 2009

We’ve all heard the expression, “companies measure what matters, and what matters gets measured.” As organizations endeavor to figure out what sustainability and green mean to them, software vendors are emerging to help. Given the lack of definition, standards and regulation, organizations are learning and taking action at their own pace, and there’s a lot for everyone – organizations, software vendors, industry groups and government – to figure out.

In the effort to explain where Sustainable Minds fits in the software landscape, we realized that we had to define this new sector, just to explain where we fit within it. For this purpose, we’ve coined the phrase ‘Sustainability Performance Software.’ Being a customer-centered product design organization, our definitions are based on who the customers and users are of these new apps, and their purposes for purchasing.

Engaging customers in the sustainability dialog

By David Laituri on January 30, 2009

 When we first conceived of Vers back in 2007, we wanted to develop sound systems that were better in every way imaginable; an ambitious goal that we hoped would drive our company to do great things on into the future. This applied not only to the design and sound quality of our systems, but to their environmental thoughtfulness as well.

As we progressed, the idea of involving our customers in a dialog about energy efficiency, sustainability and carbon reduction seemed natural to us – we wanted Vers to be a participatory brand. Since the large part of Vers is its plantation-sourced wood construction, trees were an obvious device to help connect the CO2 generated by using a Vers system to a simple, easy to understand solution. Trees are both tangible and visceral; our customers easily related to them. Planting trees became an engaging way to initiate the carbon reduction dialog and to encourage our customers to participate in making a difference.

Make sense of your eco certifications

By Lorne Craig on January 23, 2009

These days, many corporate web sites are fairly bursting with well-intentioned fair trade, certified organic, sustainable supply-chain certification symbols. Looks great, but what does it all mean? Last week I got an e-catalogue from local clothing company Eco Apparel that answered that question. Eco Apparel is a Vancouver-based clothing manufacturer who really puts their sustainability where their mouth is. From recycled-content fabrics to responsible procurement, they work hard to do it right. They also boast their fair share of certifications – Bluesign, Intertek, 1% for the Planet, CSR Corporate Social Responsibility – as well as claims of certified yarns and fair-trade manufacturing.

Gathering your sustainability stories to build an authentic greener brand

By Sandy Skees on January 16, 2009

 Both early stage and legacy companies share common ground when developing a sustainable brand promise. In order to communicate authentically to key stakeholders, start by identifying the ‘head and heart’ story that inspires every product design, or in a larger sense, inspires each company’s formation. These intertwined rationales will build a ‘goodness narrative’ that is the foundation of a sustainable brand.

Companies are starting to give themselves permission to tell a multi-faceted story that goes beyond market dominance, product creation and increasing profits. Not that these aren’t important, they are. But they are not the only story. It is important to capture and communicate the anecdotes of how individuals inside companies are creating solutions that incorporate social and environmental impacts of products or companies.

1. Make an honest assessment of where you are
As you gather your sustainability stories, take stock of where you really are and include an honest measure of what is truly sustainable inside your operation in an accessible and clear way. Be up front about the challenges and your team’s assessment of how you will address them.